For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced…To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.
The marks of the world remain in each of our souls, in fact, they even arise form within us, from our sinful nature. Three specific unspiritual traits are given here for us to avoid: (1) Rebellion – disrespect to authority. There are some who consider it a virtue to be difficult to lead, to be argumentative and disrespectful. While everyone in leadership should have some means of accountability to others, no society can function, neither can the church function, in the presence of rebellious disrespect.
(2) Inconsequential talk, and only talk, talk that replaces faith and decision and commitment. In Pilgrim’s Progress is the character named Talkative who epitomizes this trait. At first Faithful is very impressed by Talkative, but Christian knows him better and warns Faithful not to be taken in by mere talk, for there is no faith in Talkative’s heart.
This man is for any company, and for any talk; as he talketh now with you, so will he talk when he is on the ale-bench; and the more drink he hath in his crown, the more of these things he hath in his mouth. Religion hath no place in his heart, or house, or conversation; all he hath lieth in his tongue, and his religion is to make a noise therewith.
In the Christian faith we so value teaching that sometimes we are taken in by talk. Real commitment to Christ, however, is more than just saying the right things. It is about believing and acting on the truth of God.
Paul also warns us about (3) Manipulative people: those who manipulate the truth and others for personal financial gain. These are, of course, two sides of the same coin, for anyone who teaches would expect some financial advantage, or some advantage in some area of life. Here on Crete Paul mentioned financial advantages, but to Timothy in Ephesus he mentioned those who take advantage of women sexually (2 Timothy 3:6). False teachers teach false doctrine, but they also take advantage of others for their own selfish purposes. Elsewhere Paul confirmed the responsibility to support those who serve through teaching the truth of God (1 Timothy 5:17-18); here he warns against those who would manipulate the truth and the hearer as well.
Instead there is to be a commitment to the truth of God that lifts us above living by mere adherence to rules. This is not to discount the moral teachings of Scripture – we need to be guided the knowledge of what is right and wrong in God’s eyes – but the one who lives in pure devotion is to be mastered by God, not by rules. “To the pure all things are pure.” That is not to say that stealing is permissible, or adultery, or idolatry. The immediate issue that Paul was addressing was eating food sacrificed to idols, which in the New Testament churches some thought was okay and others thought it was not permissible, and were enslaved to a rigid legalism in the name of Christianity. The true believer needs not to worry about such obscure and minor things – though he may choose not to eat or drink some things so as not to cause his brother or sister to stumble, he is guided by a higher ethic, the ethic of pure commitment to the heart of God.
But this verse also serves a higher purpose in our hearts: a heart mastered by God sees life very differently. This is saying something very similar to Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.” The one who truly delights in the Lord and in His purpose and glory, has a different view of life. He does what he wants to do because of the purity of his desires. Our need then is purity of heart, letting God’s desires and His desires only dominate our heart. The Christian conscience is not to be enslaved by rules but to be surrendered to the life and will of God. We obey His rules not out of fear, or for the sake of the rules alone, but out of love and pure commitment to Him.
Professor Albert Barnes wrote:
The principle of the declaration is, that a pure mind—a truly pious mind will not regard the distinctions of food and drink; of festivals, rites, ceremonies, and days, as necessary to be observed in order to promote its purity. The conscience is not to be burdened and enslaved by these things, but is to be controlled only by the moral laws which God has ordained. But there may be a somewhat higher application of the words— that every ordinance of religion; every command of God; every event that occurs in Divine Providence, tends to promote the holiness of one who is of pure heart. He can see a sanctifying tendency in everything, and can derive from all that is commanded, and all that occurs, the means of making the heart more holy. While a depraved mind will turn every such thing to a pernicious use, and make it the means of augmenting its malignity and corruption, to the pure mind it will be the means of increasing its confidence in God, and of making itself more holy. To such a mind everything may become a means of grace.
In these short verses Paul was actually dealing with the extremes of human personalities and weaknesses – one who is the rebel, who rejects authority and rules, and seeks to go his own way – the other who is rigidly attracted to rules for the sake of the rules themselves. They both miss the mark and are disapproved by God’s Spirit. The mind of the Spirit, however, brings life and peace, freedom and joy.
Lord, purify our hearts, sanctify us by Your word. Your word is truth. Let pure love mold our minds and our hearts. Teach us to love Your law because it reveals Your character and holiness. Let us be mastered by You, and You alone. Amen.